Saturday, October 30, 2010

How do Children Learn?

One of the tasks in my work is to write the requirements for new training systems the AF will use to teach people how to maintain and operate the aircraft we use. About a year ago a researcher explained, as part of a briefing on training, that young people's brains functioned significantly different today than they did when I was their age. The analogy she used was to describe how someone in my generation solves a problem there is an expectation that certain synapsis will fire and specific parts of the brain will be active. When that same problem is presented to a young adult today the brain works completely different. To put that into context it kind of goes back to the old left brain, right brain comparisons so popular in explaining the difference between men and woman.

To be clear, this discussion was focused on training, and not education. What is the difference you ask? In my context training is the process of teaching someone to accomplish something. There are right and wrong ways to accomplish the task, training is intended to show the individual the right way and hopefully not reinforce the wrong. Education, on the other hand, is the process of teaching someone to think and reason for themselves. Education should start with the premise that debate is healthy, questioning is expected, and at the end of the day there is a reasonable expectation for multiple right ways to think.

The researchers theory, and not her's alone, was that todays children spend so much time with video games, where instructions are few, they have developed unique adaptations to problem solving. They are able to quickly narrow down or focus in on the most likely solution sets based on experiences with other games and activities. The challenge in building training systems is how do we leverage this knowledge to build systems optimized for the target audience? I think the same question is a fair one for parents.

If we go back to the difference between education and training; clearly a parent has a dual responsibility. He or she must first train the infant to fit within the family expectations and only then can the ability to learn independence be realized. They say a child learns one half of everything she/he will learn before they start kindergarten. This means the parents role is critical to success later on. If the child is neglected in these formative years is catching up possible?

So going back to my original question -- how does a child learn? Maybe the better question is how do parents teach?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Social Networking Versus the Individual

I've been thinking about this for some time and have a pretty basic question. Does today's world allow for individuals to shape themselves or can we only be products of the social networks we are linked to?

In the sixties, Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan wrote two books, Understanding Media and The Medium is the Message where he theorized the media or medium of transmission was, in many cases, more important than the message it was intended to convey. McLuhan was also among the first to realize we were nearing the end of the age where print media dominated the information exchange. We were moving to where electronic media would replace the printed word. He believed in this new age humankind would move from individualism and fragmentation into a collective identify. He coined the term the "global village" to reflect this shared identity.

I think socialist and the elitist in government, education and communication have bought into these theories and today push for the fulfillment of that shared collective. Ms. Clinton's book It Takes a Village is supposed to stem from an Africa proverb on how outside individuals and groups contribute to the raising of children. I've often wondered why there has never been a linkage to McLuhan, surely as a college student at Wellesley she must have had at least a passing knowledge of how McLuhan thought public opinion was shaped by the emerging mediums of television and global communication. I believe we see in todays News broadcasts, where polling data is presented as factual basis for the story, a validation of McLuhan's ideas.

This leads me back to my question. Where Facebook and Twitter become central to the lives of youngsters and young adults will they ever be able to think for themselves and shape their lives based on a set of core values they have developed through individual contemplation, or will the choices they make always be a result of the need to be a part of the "global village?"

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Election Day

As we approach the upcoming election I would offer this advice from the Chicago Political Machine. Vote Early, Vote Often.

In watching the news I find that I am, as an American, scared and not thinking straight. Funny I don't feel scared, the not thinking straight I accept since my wife has told me that before. If you are scared, then you have more reason to participate in the upcoming election. Before you enter the election booth, to add your voice to the decision, please spend a moment or two thinking about your core values and how to reflect them in your choice.

What these past two years has shown me is that when either party has a dominant majority they will put the nations interest aside and fight for the largest number of negative sound bites they can garner. This is only fostered by the 24/7/365 talking head syndrome we are going through. Maybe we would be better off if we could bring back Max Headroom.

For me I am taking my lead from the Queen of Hearts in Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Off with Their Heads!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What Life Should be Like.

I wish each day could be like this, waking up to find a big cuddly friend to warm your heart. It is too bad that as we grow; the wonder of the world around us becomes mundane and routine.

If we could watch the world through the eyes of a child, I wonder how much brighter the colors, how more exciting the people around us, and how more special would each day become? I love to go to Disney World, not for the rides, although they are fun, but rather to watch for the joy in the children who still see and believe the magic of a big mouse.

As we go about the business of being adults, I think we would be better served if we can always remember we were children once, and can be again!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Free Speech and Political Correctness

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
1st Amendment; US Constitution

With the dismissal today of the National Public Radio political reporter Juan Williams we have reached a new level of public censorship. In this case Mr. Williams was discussing his personal feelings about traveling on public transportation with people who are easily identified as muslim.

When we reach a point were no one is allowed to express their personal opinions, for fear their boss will fire them what are we saying about our society? I can understand when comments are provocative like calling for criminal behavior, or when they create a clear and immediate danger, like yelling "fire" in a crowded place, but to limit adult speech because we may offend seems to go the heart of all that is wrong with this swing to left.

We would be well served to recognize that real dialogue and thoughtful change can only occur when we are willing to openly discuss all sides of an issue. This may mean that someone will hear something they don't like or agree with. The reasonable adult should be able to filter that for themselves. I understand that on many campuses today professors are actively engaged in defining what is acceptable speech for the youth they are teaching. If they are like the professors I had they really didn't want to listen to opposing views. The difference is I think they now have administration support to call it incorrect speech and condemn it out of existence. What kind of real education will that lead to?

Watching the video, what I find most interesting was his prefacing remarks where he attempts to explain he is not bigot BUT... How many times have we seen people do the same thing when they are accused of racial discrimination? I wonder if he was fired because of his remarks, or because they were made on FOX?

Another amusing twist is Whoopi Goldberg and the rest of the cast of the View calling for his reinstatement. This would be the same Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar who stormed off the set when Bill O'Reilly pointed out that 70% of American's don't want the Mosque built in the area near the site of the twin towers attack and they were out of touch. I wonder if they would be so quick to jump to the defense of O'Reilly (or any white journalist) if he was fired for making insensitive remarks.

While I am on the subject of the Mosque... why the heck is this a national issue? Last time I checked Manhattan is part of NYC and they have all the zoning laws they need to decide this issue.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What is Freedom Like?

I can remember back to when I was 15. I think it was like 100 years ago, but I can remember when I had my first sailplane or glider ride at Wurtsboro airport in NY. My pilot was a pilot from WW2 who had learned to soar in the 1930s. He had learned to fly gliders because at the time Germany was not allowed to have an air force and had to find ways to train without publicly violating the armistice. He told me he had flown Me 109 fighters in the war, but afterwards had moved to America. I didn't ask if he had shot down any Americans.

Anyway, we took off and were towed to three thousand feet where we released the tow line to begin our glide back to the airport. Almost immediately we felt a thermal buffet our wing and we rolled into it to try and gain lift. I remember looking off the wing and there was a red-tailed hawk circling with us. That is my very first experience in flying and it created, for me, a complete and total release from all the demands of life as well as a sense of freedom. For one brief instant the hawk and I were in harmony, each controlling its own fate, and neither afraid of the other. We were in his element and focused on the challenge at hand.

That moment has always been for me an inspirational one. It taught me that if you were free you controlled your destiny, you were responsible for the choices you made, you could soar or you could crash it all depended on how you controlled yourself, your emotions, and your environment. If you look to others to solve your problems for you, if you look to others to shape your world, or you expect to have handed to you the gifts that surround us you will never be free.

Each of us must come up with our own definition of freedom, and in turn what we are willing to sacrifice for it. For me, that one instant in time has served to shape my life, and the choices I have made. I hope you are as lucky as I was.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

What is Compassion?

I have been wrestling with the concept of what is compassion for some time. I heard an interesting observation on Glen Beck this afternoon as I was driving. I admit I don't listen to Mr. Beck with any regularity, or for a whole show but this afternoon he and his guest were discussing how if you take an eagle's egg you will be fined or perhaps imprisoned, but if you abort a human fetus there is no penalty. They went on to discuss how secularists are placing man at the bottom of the ladder and not as the dominate life on the planet. I am not sure if I understand and agree completely with the premise but the example they used offered a real and important learning point for me on compassion.

Can a person be considered compassionate if they hold the lives of plants and animals in higher value than that of human life? If the right to terminate human life is a protected right of the individual than can our society be considered compassionate when we send aid to victims of disaster?

Mankind has waged war on itself since it first walked erect, clearly we have never valued human life to any great extent, but as we like to think we have grown in wisdom and matured as humans wouldn't it be nice if we did?

It seems to me compassion has to start with protection of those unable to speak for themselves and then extend to those less fortunate. I see a clear distinction in my view and that of the current administration on this. I don't see recreating a national welfare class as a compassionate act. Experience has taught that when we grow a generation on welfare entitlements they believe they are owed everything, or they are victims. We cannot let this happen again.

If we are ever to reach true equality in America, each race must see themselves as positive forces capable of moving forward without hate, and showing the other races the respect we show equals. We must find core values we share as a people or we will drift apart. I would hope compassion for life is one of those values.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

On Retirement

A friend told me today he was going to retire, he'd come into some money and now felt he was sufficiently well off to leave the daily grind and enter a state where he could garden, build and to the other things he would like to.

On one hand I am envious of his plans, but assuming all things were equal I am not sure I could make the same decision. I think I would go nuts if I didn't have the chance to make a difference with the organization I've been associated with so long. But then again I am sure I would find something I could do to make a difference somewhere.

Independence is a wonderful feeling. I hope it works out for my friend.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

An Interesting Need

I had the opportunity today to listen to a priest convey how the Catholic church is under attack from all sides and it is clearly the fault of the secular world. He said that Jews and Moslems do not experience this same problem, and that they would not stand for such abuse as was shown the Pope on his recent visit to England. Interestingly there was no mention of the protestant church's in this venting. Almost as if they didn't exist, but wait, am I feeling picked on here? He cited as absolute truth a couple of second hand sources he had read in a magazine for priests that show that secularists in charge of the NYC school system are teaching children in an English class that religion is foolish. I checked the NYC school curriculum on line and was unable to find what must hidden so deeply only dedicated researchers can find it.

This homily reminded me of a similar rant, by another priest, about five years ago. He spent the better part of 20 minutes explaining to the congregation how hard it was to be a priest, how under appreciated he was, and how in Italy they knew how to show their priests the respect they deserve. Wait, would that be the same Italy that has about a 23% annual attendance rate?

So what do these two homilies have in common? Both were given by impassioned priests who want to convince their flocks that there is much to change, they are not living as the priests would have them live and unless serious change occurs we are going to heck. On the one hand Catholics must rise up, united in their cause, to stamp out the secularist movement and restore the church to its prominence, on the other I think the priest just needed to be stroked to tell him he was doing a good job (this was right about the time another priest in the diocese was arrested for selling drugs to children).

All this being said, I think there really is an ageless question to consider. When will mankind mature to the point where all people have a right to worship as they see fit, where their beliefs are not called into question, or trampled on, or viewed with hostility? The words of the new testament hold great meaning for us, but as we deal with the politics of human life I think we forget a couple of the most important lessons.
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadduccees, they came together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, to test him. "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This the great and first commandment. And the a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets." (Matthew 23, 34-40)
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